Shauna’s Guilt and Jackie’s Ear Dominate the Yellowjackets Season 2 Premiere

Shauna's attempt to cope with Jackie's death takes a dark turn in the Yellowjackets season 2 premiere

Photo: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

The following contains Yellowjackets season 2 episode 1 spoilers.

Showtime drama Yellowjackets is many things—a twisty survival thriller, a haunting (perhaps literally!) mystery, a chilling horror story, a tense exploration of the long-tail effects of shared trauma—but at its heart, it’s a story about the complex emotional lives of teenage girls. Yes, the eponymous 1996 girls’ soccer team that finds themselves stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash is forced to make some dark choices in order to survive, of a sort that tends to generate a lot of complicated fan theories about what’s happening to them and how the show’s dark hints of the cannibalism that ultimately took place are likely to play out. But Yellowjackets is at its best when it’s digging into the messy relationships between its central characters—both pre-and-post crash—as they blame, forgive, support, and rage at one another. 

Nowhere has that complicated understanding of young women and the bonds between them been more evident than in the relationship between Jackie Taylor and Shauna Shipman. Their friendship has always been one of the central emotional axes around which Yellowjackets turns, an intense bond that boasts both deep, genuine connection and undeniably sharp edges. That Jackie and Shauna love one another deeply is evident, that they also frequently resent and envy one another, equally so. As with many high school BFFs, their bond had clearly defined roles for each to fulfill: Jackie, the popular soccer captain, and Shauna, her mousier sidekick. One a leader and the other a follower. One with a bright future; the other kind of along for the ride, whether she wanted to be or not. This messy mix all comes to a head in the Yellowjackets season 2 premiere, as Shauna attempts to process her friend’s death in a myriad of unhealthy ways.

The girls’ relationship is a central throughline throughout both of the series’ timelines—in 1996, the two are basically inseparable, despite problems ranging from petty squabbles to an act of God-level disaster. Twenty-five years later, Shauna is married to Jackie’s former boyfriend Jeff and the two annually visit her parents for a birthday “celebration” that feels more like a wake (complete with reminders of all the ways Shauna’s life is a pale imitation of what their dead daughter’s could have been if she had survived). Whether she likes it or not, Shauna’s stuck with Jacke. Maybe more as an adult than she ever was when her friend was alive.

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Prior to the plane crash, Shauna had just begun exploring the idea of figuring out who she was outside of Jackie’s shadow. She applied and was accepted to Brown instead of Rutgers, the college Jackie had decided they’d attend together. She rejected the boy Jackie picked out for her (the unpopular Randy Walsh) in favor of a relationship of her own choosing. (Granted, that relationship was casual sex with Jackie’s boyfriend Jeff, a reveal that reverberates throughout the world of Yellowjackets in multiple ways.) And despite the terrible circumstances they all found themselves in, Shauna thrived in the woods, slowly growing into the sort of leader and provider in a way that Jackie herself couldn’t figure out how to become. Had both girls survived, they likely would have drifted away from one another, pushed apart by the memory of shared trauma and shared betrayal.

But they didn’t. And because Shauna lost Jackie in life, she’s seemingly doomed to be forever haunted by her in death. Sometimes, in the extremely literal sense. 

Given that Yellowjackets is a show whose opening scene involves a girl literally running for her life before being trapped in a forest pit and eaten by her teammates, the fact that Shauna spends most of the season 2 premiere having extended conversations in a storage shed with her BFF’s frozen dead body probably isn’t as shocking as it would be on almost any other program. Still, it’s pretty darn disturbing, particularly as the scenes between them repeatedly shift between Shauna sharing a room with a dead girl’s corpse and an all too alive-looking hallucination. But whether this Jackie is simply a sign that Shauna has finally lost it in the wake of her friend’s death, a psychic manifestation of the various guilts that she didn’t get the chance to confess or apologize for, or a strange totem that she’s somehow adopted, is unclear. After all, Shauna often seems fully aware that she’s talking to a dead body—she poses Jackie in specific positions and panics when, after lashing out at her, she accidentally breaks off a frozen ear. (Truly, we are going to need such strong stomachs for season 2.)

Though we’ve known since fairly early on in the series run that Jackie didn’t make it out of the woods alive, we didn’t find out the specifics of her death until the Yellowjackets season 1 finale, where it was revealed that she froze to death after an argument with Shauna saw her suddenly empowered former sidekick order her out of the cabin the group was using as shelter and take her chances with the elements. Granted, Shauna couldn’t possibly have predicted that the season’s first snow would arrive that night, or that Jackie’s fire would die.

 But, between sleeping with Jeff, lying to Jackie about it, getting pregnant by her BFF’s man, and trying to figure out how to give birth in a place with no indoor plumbing wasn’t enough to push her over the edge, well…it sure looks like accidentally causing the death of said best friend might have done it. Shauna certainly has a lot to feel guilty about, and it makes sense that she’s using her confessionals with dead Jackie to work through some of the things she never got the chance to admit to. It’s Dead Jackie who forces Shauna to confess about how overt her pursuit of her best friend’s boyfriend was and how willing she was to believe the worst of her friend to get what she wanted. And it’s Dead Jackie’s insistence that Shauna admits why she did all those things that ultimately causes her to physically push the corpse, causing the whole broken ear situation. An ear that Shauna, in her desperation, eventually eats. 

In hindsight, of course, the first overt whiff of cannibalism in Yellowjackets was always going to involve Shauna eating a frozen piece of Jackie’s dead body as she wrestles with a complex blend of shame, guilt, and grief. (The fact that this moment occurs as “Cornflake Girl,” Tori Amos’s anthem to fraught female friendship, plays in the background is just another level of perfection.)

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But what’s especially disturbing—and brilliant—about this moment is that the show doesn’t really offer any concrete explanation for her actions. It’s up to viewers to determine whether Shauna was simply trying to hide the evidence, was actually that hungry in the aftermath of the group reducing food rations again, or just desperately wanted to somehow keep a piece of Jackie with her forever. The answer could be any or all of those things because, on some level, they’re all true. Jackie will always be part of Shauna, both physically and metaphorically, the same way she’ll always be a looming force over the world of Yellowjackets, no matter whether she’s dead or alive.

The first episode of Yellowjackets season 2 is available to stream on and Showtime on Demand now. New episodes premiere via streaming Fridays and cable on Sundays.